Retro scares, cybercrime, espionage, confidence tricksters and even a mad old granny. It must be review time again. Hello everyone…
Dying of the Light (Dir, Paul Schrader, 2014) 1.5/5*
Believe it or not, this was nearly Nicholas Winding Refn and Harrison Ford. In the end, Schrader ended up directing his own script, with Nicholas Cage in the starring role as Evan Lake, a desk bound CIA fuddy-duddy with a score to settle before a debilitating mental illness takes him over. With a five million dollar budget (one million of which was Cage’s salary), this was always going to struggle when throwing its weight around with the big boys and the lack of funds often shows, not least in those scenes where you may naturally expect money to be thrown around, like the car chases for example. Here, Schrader has had an admirable stab at making the film feel more like Ronin, but as stated on his own Facebook page, the final version was re-edited, mixed and re-scored after his work was done. Whether you believe the final version is his own vision, or someone else’s, is up to you. Either way, this wouldn’t save the film from being widely panned by ‘them in the know’. And for good reason. Personally I was both bored and lost before the film was twenty minutes old. I had already failed to care about the characters and I hadn’t really even got to know them. Hushed whispers about Cage’s ear giving a better performance than he did seemed to be well founded after all then. In all, something of a tiresome bore, with characters impossible to engage with. It’s no surprise that everyone involved had already held their hands up, queuing to make excuses even before it was released, as this is unforgivably shoddy and uneven.
Blackhat (Dir, Michael Mann, 2015) 2.5/5*
Well, that was disappointing. For all of the hyperbole surrounding the latest Michael Mann project (most notably its strict adherence to technological authenticity), this delivered at least part of what it promised. It was an intelligent and, by all accounts, realistic depiction of cybercrime at very high levels. One thing this does underline, however, is just how dull cybercrime at very high levels can actually be. Chris Hemsworth takes on the role of convicted hacker Nick Hathaway, released from prison in order to aid the CIA in capturing a mystery person that remotely blew up a nuclear power station in China and bring them to suitable justice, with the help of the Chinese security team that have requested his help. Failing really to live up to Mann’s reputation, Blackhat suffers through an uneventful and imagination-hungry script. There is jet-setting and sometimes beautiful cinematography, but the production design feels lacklustre and for a thriller, it really fails to get the pulse racing as you might expect, especially from a film-maker so renowned for doing just that. The performances throughout are decidedly average and engagement is limited as it appears that Hemsworth, at least, has been to the Wachowski’s school of jaw-clamping grimaces, which includes the likes of Keanu Reeves and Channing Tatum to name but two. Overall, a big letdown, but only because we rightly expected more. Being no technical wizard, I can’t really say if this aspect is on the money or not, but it feels like it is. Still, there is more to espionage and adventure than typing on a keyboard, right?
Small Time (Dir, Joel Surnow, 2014) 3.5/5*
It’s find of the week time! Joel Surnow, accomplished television writer, most notably for the likes of 24 and La Femme Nikita, directs his own script here about a young man that graduates high school and goes to work for his father in his second-hand car dealership as a fledgling salesman. Starring Chris Meloni, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, Devon Bostick and Bridget Moynahan. A simple, largely unadventurous story about a difficult time in a young mans’ life and the issues both he and his father face when he moves away from his mother and properly into his fathers life, who has been domestically absent from him for some time. The writing and performances are excellent, and we should expect no less with a great cast and a top class writer on board. If anything, you might expect the weak link to be Surnow’s direction, but whilst this is not revolutionary particularly, it is clear that Surnow relishes the chance to literally call the shots. Threatening sometimes to delve into ‘tv movie of the week’ territory, with the strained triangular relationships between mother/son-father/son-mother/father sometimes stepping a little too far forward to see anything else, this nonetheless remains engaging throughout. Fathers of older children may see a little bit of themselves, and this will only heighten the sense of emotional recognition, which is down, again, to believable performances and a carefully considered script. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, though I appreciate this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The Lookalike (Dir, Richard Grey, 2014) 2.5/5*
Hmm, this was a bit strange. Watching The Lookalike was nothing if not entertaining. It really would have benefited from a more substantial, and cooler, soundtrack and the dialogue could have been a tad snappier (written by Grey’s wife, Michele Davis-Grey) if it really wanted to achieve some kind of cult status that other similar movies have enjoyed. In a first act that tells several different stories and introduces just the right amount of characters before it becomes too complex to follow, the tone and pace are set to a smidgen above cruising speed. The main premise of finding a replacement girl for a more than slightly unsavoury job due to a freak accident is simple enough, yet you may spend the entire first half of the film wondering just who it is that will end up with the titular role. And just when you think you know, the film wags its finger at you, before knowingly tapping it against the side of its nose. The truth of it is that The Lookalike could have been unbearably cool. Littered with recognisable faces doing desperate things is the stuff that successful thrillers are often made of. Unfortunately, the acting is a little shy of brilliant and as I mentioned, the mood of the piece fails too often to ignite the audience into real rapture due to the odd choice of score. The script is fine but never truly dazzles any more than those speaking the words, but don’t get me wrong, there is solid entertainment value here, even if it sometimes feels like it ‘could do better’.
Intermission – Cinema Sins – After Earth!!
(well, it was just a matter of time, really)
It Follows (Dir, David Robert Mitchell, 2014) 4/5*
It must be quite difficult to put a new spin on horror these days. Just about everything you can imagine that could be filmed probably has been, and those things that can’t, well, they probably never will. So what does any self-respecting film-maker do when he wants to inject something different into a genre that may be becoming a little too comfortable and, dare I say it, predictable? Well, if you can’t go forward, its as good a plan as any to look back. Here, writer/director David Robert Mitchell takes a very simple idea and throws a seventies horror score at it. This will remind those old enough to remember and become wistfully nostalgic about the likes of Halloween, Amityville and Friday the 13th, amongst others. If you’re not old to remember, then this may come off as innovative and entirely original. The synth and strings make the movie, all told, as without them, this is likely to be a very different experience, regardless of the very good idea for the story itself. Mitchell’s vision is far enough away from the mainstream to pique the interest of critics and audiences everywhere, who will no doubt be tired by now of seeing the same old unimaginative generic nonsense, passing itself off as a definition of horror that they probably spent too long complaining about for the past twenty years or more. Yes, there are exceptions, many of them, but rarely do they get the attention they deserve. This may not deserve it as much as some others, but nonetheless, this is indeed a giant stride in the right direction. A lethal curse handed from one person to another via sexual intercourse may smack of social comment about safe sex should you choose to see it, but this has more in common with ‘The Ring’ as certain death is passed to the unwitting if you have the chance to do so. Decent performances and some unsettling camera work make this an experience that is unique these days in its old school charm.
Focus (Dir, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, 2015) 3/5*
Okay, I’ll admit it. Going to see Will Smith do his thing was honestly not my first consideration. It had Margot Robbie in it, there was a bikini involved, so naturally I was there. Not the best thing for an alleged, focused, single-minded and honest movie reviewer to admit to, I understand, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut, so I took my not inconsiderable gut with me to basically just have a bit of a dribble at probably the best looking woman on the planet right about now. I wasn’t really expecting to be entertained by the story. Just keep Margot on screen Mr Directors, and that’ll be just fine. But I was entertained, in a ‘didn’t Catherine Zeta-Jones do this with Sean Connery already?’ type fashion, but still, heavy doses of Ms Robbie made it more than bearable. When the head of a well-organised grifter ring (Smith) comes face to face with a beautiful and beguiling pickpocket, Jess (Robbie), he can’t but not only fall head over heels for her, but also takes her into his organisation of skillful and well-connected criminals. So begins a relationship that enjoys its fair share of thrills as much as laughs, and there is enough of both to keep the neutral’s interest above snoozing level. Not awash with action per se, the script is witty at times and cheesy by turns. The film looks as glamorous as you would expect and the performances are as adequate as you might expect the audience to demand, given the overall frothy, fun, throwaway feel the film employs. Entertaining certainly, but certainly no classic.
Mercy (Dir, Peter Cornwell, 2014) 2/5*
You know something’s probably not right when the first scene of a movie has a man put an axe through his own head. Guess things must be pretty grim, eh? As tone–setting goes, this is fairly unequivocal. This came with a certain amount of expectation and if I’m honest, had it not been for the presence of Mark Duplass, I probably would have skipped past this, particularly in a week where the excellent ‘It Follows’ is also featured. Based on the short story ‘Gramma’ by Stephen King, the story revolves around a single mother and her two sons, who are looking after their Grandmother, who herself is a bit talented in the “scare the bejeezus out of you!?” department. At only 78 minutes, this is a bit of an enigma, given that some of the acting is truly woeful and some, strangely, is not bad at all. The pace is a little languid, even given the short running time, and you do see the cracks in the film-making early on, with the scares somewhat laboured and a score that, after the first couple of minutes, does little to raise the expectancy levels above ‘tv movie of the week’ standards. This would explain the severely limited release in the US and, at time of writing, no plans for further distribution elsewhere. The script starts promisingly enough, but very quickly degenerates to eyeball-rolling cliches, that will test the patience. Not that you will get the choice, but if you did, make sure ‘It Follows’ is the horror movie you see this week, as it really shows this effort what it should be doing.
Song of the Week – Not so much a song as just one part of the fantastic score from the film of the week ‘It Follows’ – This is Disasterpeace/Title
That’s all from me this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Thanks for coming and see you next week.
Love and slop